Dallas City Council Is Fine with Free Speech, as Long as It's Not Close to a Freeway

Categories: City Hall

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Dallas: still not safe for comically large Bush/Cheney bobbleheads.
For those who think free speech is an absolute right that shouldn't be lightly trifled with, this morning's City Council meeting offered an unpleasant spectacle.

It wasn't so much that the council voted 10-4 to pass an ordinance outlawing
"conduct that is intended to distract the attention of motorists" (i.e. protesting) on the city's highways and service roads; in some ways, it's an improvement over the old rule, currently being challenged in federal court, which put in place a 75-foot, sign-free buffer zone around freeways.

What was troubling was the way supporters of the measure twisted themselves in knots to present themselves as defenders of public safety.

"If we simply repeal [the existing anti-protest ordinance] with the possibility that we may be able to settle a lawsuit, we leave our officers exposed to a danger without any way of enforcing against that danger," said Councilwoman Vonciel Hill, responding to the notion that the measure should simply be abandoned. "To say that we should not assist our police officers because we may get sued is simply disingenuous."

To be clear, the ordinance isn't about protecting cops. Not even Police Chief David Brown was saying that. "This is about protecting people driving on the freeway, driving 55 miles per hour, and keeping them from hurting themselves or hurting someone else," he offered.

Sheffie Kadane, who chairs the council's public safety committee, gets it.

"I guarantee you, I'm driving down a freeway and a sign is hanging over a bridge, I'm going to try and see what it says," Kadane said. "That's human nature, and that's dangerous."

See also: As City Hall Battles Activists' Lawsuit, Dallas Moves to Ease Rules on Street-corner Protests

So does Dwaine Caraway, who offered a hypothetical scenario in which a protester accidentally dropped a sign from an overpass onto the freeway below, causing a tragic pileup. "This is not anti-protest; this is pro-safety," he said.

Yet Brown, pressed by Councilman Phillip Kingston, could offer no instance in which a protest had caused a traffic accident. "That's because the answer is zero," Kingston offered. "It's not there."

Besides, the ordinance isn't limited to people hanging large signs from overpasses. It also includes people wearing costumes or any other "clothing, attire or accessory intended to attract or seek the attention of the public" basically any time they are visible from the highway

Kingston, who was joined by Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs and Carolyn Davis in voting against the measure, declared it "another situation in which the city of Dallas has a regulation but no problem."

"This is an ordinance we don't need," he said. "No matter how carefully we craft it to make it content-neutral, it's going to be perceived by people who want to protest as being against free speech. ... It sure looks like that to me as well."

Indeed, Dallas police never hesitated in the past to use the 75-foot buffer to crack down on protests, even when they posed no danger to drivers on the highway.

That was the case with the George W. Bush Library protesters who were arrested along the Central Expressway service road, and it was the case when libertarian provocateur Alex Jones was shooed from the front steps of the Federal Reserve on the eve of November's JFK commemoration.

See also: Alex Jones Predicts That He'll Be Martyred at Dealey Plaza by Dallas Cops This Week

On some level, the council members understand that. Councilman Rick Callahan expressed what one suspects is the collective id near the end of the discussion.

"I think the primary goals of the protester is to be arrested and taken to jail and to get on CNN and Fox News," he said. The new ordinance will "allow police department to get them to jail a little bit quicker."

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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A little off topic but....Question.   What is the law of Free Speech when it comes to speaking to public figures in public.   For example, if I happen to run into George W. Bush in a public setting am I allowed to tell him I though the war in Iraq was a huge mistake and I feel he damaged our country?   Can they be confronted with a negative thought as long as it is done with appropriate language? 


Allowed: "world class" distractions such as bridges and new LED lights.

Not allowed: "unclassy" distractions such as political signs and JFK conspiracy pamphlets.

Legal:"world class" distractions such as bridges and new LED lights.

Illegal: "unclassy" distractions such as political signs and JFK conspiracy pamphlets.


Well... Can we do something about the freakin Omni hotel then? NOTHING is more  (and annoying) than that thing when you're driving down 30


Anyone putting in the miles on freeways today will tell you the most common sign on hiway overpasses is "Impeach Obama".


What about all those glaring yellow vehicles with all the writing on them?

And the shark on Central.

ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Guess we better turn off all the distracting neon on all our downtown buildings.  That shit can be distracting, especially when you are trying to photograph the latest design on the Omni while eating a sausage mcmuffin and putting on makeup

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I sincerely hope to never be driving on the freeway near or next to Sheffie Kadane.


So all the potentially distracting highway billboards are coming out? Awesome!


You can even throw a shoe at him, dude. Nutters do this shit all the time, go for it.


@ruddski If you are talking about the guy at the press conference in Iraq, well he was just showing his appreciation for liberating their country from WMD's and showing his appreciation for American's coming over and destroying their country and killing their families (raping some).   That is just the way those Nutters show their appreciation.   Think of it as flowers.

He is not worthy of one of my shoes. 


Myrna would never eat a sausage muffin.

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